An American Dream

Once upon a time a young Donald developed an eye for the birds and an ability to stalk and hunt down any prey he cast his gaze upon…

He quickly decided he was unlikely to need any advice from New Orleans, however well intentioned…

But the idea of being the big chief seemed to his juvenile nihilism to be inevitable, and that he would undoubtedly become the biggest most colourful of all…

Alas, all he could truly manage in the eyes of sane people was to become a lizard, loved only by the abundant pond life he sought to mesmerise…

He quickly developed a narrow view of the company he wished to keep…

Unlike the Donald, if you come to New Orleans with an open mind and a true heart, a simple message will prevail…

Until we speak again, if you hold out a hand of support for something that tweets incessantly, what you may get in return is more guano than you can handle!

Feel the Big Easy

“See me, feel me, touch me, heal me”, as the famous lyrics go from The Who. But what does this matter in the grand scheme of things down New Orleans way?

Well… “A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says what’s with the long face?” It might sound like the lead in to a comedy routine, but it is just something you might see on an ordinary day in New Orleans…

It is easy enough to ‘see‘ New Orleans… the all-out alcohol theme park that is Bourbon Street, embellished with ubiquitous beads, as it provides the backdrop to a perennial staging of the brotherhood and sisterhood of global redneckery. The hobos competing for hard earned dollars that the tourists wish only to pour down their own throats. The quintessentially potholed grime of French Quarter chic.

Kenaz Filan vividly captures the ‘seeing‘ of New Orleans as “a hospice where morals and good character could die in a suitably entertaining fashion.” Probably most usually accompanied with a suitable greeting and copious amounts of your favourite liquid…

But, is it enough just to ‘see‘ New Orleans? I guess for the inebriated it is, but this is so much more than a city… this is a way of life wrapped up in a diverse cultural history and presented through the medium of a multicultural human gumbo.

Look a little closer and you might just experience a whole new world of beauty and wonder. Because to get to know New Orleans you need to ‘feel‘ the real Nou Awlings.

It may be indelibly stamped with the sounds of jazz and the blues, most evocatively experienced by the street procession behind a traditional New Orleans brass band…

… but why not also listen a little closer to the daily soundtrack… that of competing freight train and steamboat horns that blast across the city; and the churning of streetcar wheels grinding through spacious avenues. Not to say of the constant chatter of back stories and life’s experiences being exchanged in the cauldron-like heat of the day.

However, for a recognizably noisy metropolis there is no shortage of places for quiet contemplation. This is a city truly ‘born on a bayou’, a remnant of which is routinely ignored by tourists who only see City Park on the opposite side of the streetcar terminus. But, for those with a fuller functioning compass, tranquility and a little historic charm (e.g. Pitot House) await…

Then again, if reinventing gravity is your thing, the meditation garden in Audubon Park offers up an Isaac Newton experience, as your breathing exercises are occasionally interrupted by acorns falling from the overhanging oaks…

The French Quarter may be a hotbed of Spanish and Creole architecture, but this is a city of Cajun influences amongst so many other immigrant representatives. Once you have got your head around the voodoo intsrpretations of Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya, the street names of Tchopitoulas, Terpsichore and Capdeville, then prepare your tongue for Crawfish Etouffee, Okra and Louisiana Seafood Gumbo, Beef Po Boys, Jambalaya, Muffulettas, and Alligator Sausage. But make your choice of establishment a little more discerning… why settle for a faux tourist French Quarter restaurant when the real deal is a shack only 15 minutes walk away at Li’l Dizzy’s in the Treme?

Then there is the quintessential flirtation with death! They might offer some lotions and potions to hold back the grim reaper, but don’t bet on it…

… But, when the voodoo strikes you down, try reserving a plot in a city of above ground cemeteries that is constantly battling high water table and below sea level inevitabilities!

Be warned, nothing happens too quickly here; there is no better embodiment of the Welsh phrase “I’ll do it now, in a minute!” than a native or adopter of Nou Awlings. In fact, some take the slower pace of life to a whole new level…

And, with a view to doing their own thing, rather than following the spirit of America, just how un-American can you get? (Some things were just meant to rile those Fump Truckers!)…

Until we speak again, I make no apologies for reminding you of the prescient words of Dan Baum, that New Orleans is “a city-sized act of civil disobedience.” Come, look, but above all else, feel it!

Wind power

What better source than a combination of a skillet of Brussels Sprouts (with added bacon) and a glass of the amber nectar?

Until we speak again, thanks go to the Vacherie bar at Hotel St Marie in the French Quarter of New Orleans for providing the stage and necessary equipment for the production of who knows what subsequent stormy conditions!

Archie, Spike and the Dame

On this particular occasion the purpose of being in Paris (or Paris, France as it is known to my American readers) may have been to present a keynote speech to a European Congress with a global audience, but how often does a cat get a chance to turn tourist in one of the world’s premier cities?

So, with a few hours spare, the challenge was to set sail for the horizon in search of a few iconic structures…

…top of the list being Archie, Spike and the Dame.

Getting off the RER train at Chatelet Les Halles presents the immediate challenge of navigating an underground maze by shear guesswork. Emerging into the sunlight doesn’t necessarily provide a dazed and confused cat with any clear points of visual reference, as a multi-coloured pompous do of a centre seems completely at odds with the tradition of central Paris architecture. However, 40 years on and Le Centre Pompidou is still confounding the critics with its inside out aesthetic, combined with a sense that the original scaffolders remain on some French-like extended strike for no particular reason other than they can…

Then, with directional senses recalibrated, the gauntlet is seized and an early victory is sensed… it couldn’t be, could it? Is this the famous ‘Dame’ of every hunchback’s dream?

Sacre bleu, non, it turns out to be the 13th century Gothic jewel of Paris, Sainte Chapelle, housing a mere 1,113 individual stained glass windows (as Trump might say “That’s a lot of stains, we need to make America truly stained again, I’m going to make America the greatest stain on the planet!”)…

Stunned by the historic beauty of lesser known facades I stumble along parisienne walkways until my gaze is arrested by a dramatic set of flying buttresses… maybe this is the infamous ‘Dame’ of Paris? But sacre bleu, it is merely the 16th century Gothic architecture of the stunning Eglise Saint-Eustache, located at the entrance to the ancient Paris markets now known as Les Halles

Fearing the song lyrics “There is nothing like a dame…” becoming a true reflection of a failed search, my attention deflects toward another potential icon… could this monument before me possibly be the ‘Archie’ of my search? Sacre bleu, non monsieur, this is merely Carrousel Arc de Triomphe facing the Louvre, and providing quite a precarious position for parking one’s chariot, however many horses it takes to get you up there.

Arch near Louvre [2]

As for the ‘Spike’ of this story? It may be said that pyramids don’t count, I guess, otherwise Pyramide du Louvre would be difficult to surpass. If it is a clash of the historic and the modern, then this is certainly where you will get the point…

But, surely ‘Spike Jnr’ (aka Place de la Concorde) offers us a more convincing claim to be the ‘Spike’ that they come from all over the world to see? Not only that, but it also looks like it could provide a gateway to an arch-like discovery of monumental proportions…

Plas de la Concorde [1]

As spiky protuberances go, surely something dwarfed by a lamp post isn’t staking a claim to be a top draw when it comes to worldwide recognition of Paris landmarks?

Eiffel in distance [2]

At least this could be a mystery worth shining a light on…

Eiffel in distance [3]

In the meantime, the real ‘Archie’ of the title steps up to the plate, as we gaze up the Champs Elyssee to the Arc de Triomphe

With one success in the bag it is only a matter of walking a few hundred metres to the south before the ‘Spike’ emerges in the full glory of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel [4]

So, finally, where can you find a grand old ‘Dame’ when you are in the centre of Paris? Having located the Eiffel Tower just try following the river as your newfound starting point…

Notre Dame in distance

… and those twin towers will surely emerge to reveal the grandeur of a Notre Dame sunset…

Notre Dame [1]

Notre Dame [2]

Until we speak again, after miles of walking around the city of love, all that is left to do is trust in the instincts of the locals, and… take a leap of faith…

Statue taking a dive!

Revered Cuisine

Who could possibly resist Magret de canard roti et sauce aux cerises? That is pan fried duck breast and cherry sauce for the less travelled gourmands among you…

It may well be supremely complemented by a glass of Mouton Cadet Bordeaux, but it is always important to be aware of the derivation of what you eat. On the very morning of this feast I surveyed the environs of my Paris hotel only to be somewhat dismayed by the attraction of the currently topical plastic flotsam and jetson for the local duck population…

But, I was quickly reassured that my wildfowl actually walks on water before adorning my plate!

Until we speak again, remember that only in Paris can we revere that which we may subsequently devour… allegedly!

Antidote in Blue

Many animals need to hibernate in winter, though I personally enjoy the rare sight of snow in these parts. However, for some people I have to accept that long winter months of cold and gloom tend to trigger the blues. So, it got me reminiscing about previous visits to the Greek island of Hydra.

Here, for those feeling deprived of the vitality accompanying sunny summer days, is a prelude of things looming just beyond the horizon…

Hydra sky

 

White & Blue

Bell Tower

Mira Mare @ Mandraki Bay

Until we speak again, hold on to your dreams, and soak up the blue.

Catch yourself on

Slow, slow, quick, quick…

For a city cat from Cardiff, a visit to the west of Ireland can provide a soporific change of gear. Not least because you have to catch yourself on to a naturally slower local pace of life.

Looking for a quiet indulgence in the national libation? We may not be ready just yet…

And there is a stark reminder that corners here were made for waiting on; even if they are not exactly on the corner! It is what it is, and you just have to catch yourself on

And, just because we are about 25 miles from the west coast doesn’t mean we can’t have a harbour, does it?

If it appears to you that we are ‘a few boats short of a regatta’, well, just catch yourself on

There again, the so-called Marina Point does provide home to further aquatic references, in the form of the Shearwater Hotel

This just maybe the place where the traditional lotion can be found. But, catch yourself on, it will only be served to you after an appropriate settling wait… as the local pace of life is more about quality than speed.

Further indulgence in the life of a snail brings its own rewards, as this is most certainly a cosy home where bovine and porcine companions can be found deliciously co-habiting in a bun…

Those who like their steaks of the lean variety, catch yourself on, and find a healthier part of the world. The juicy offerings here come with a protective layer of fat. But if that is not enough, try a basket of triple cooked chunky chips and a base of caramelised onions. Button mushrooms intrude on the base to showcase what healthy eating could be… if you were somewhere else, that is!

Until we speak again, check out county Galway in the west of Ireland, and Ballinasloe particularly, if you want to catch yourself on to a lifestyle of the slow.